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Kit review: inov-8 Race Ultra 290 trainers

Written by Fiona

April 14 2016

I have always been a fan of inov-8’s off-road footwear. But a desire for more cushioning saw me move away to other brands such as Salomon. Now I have fallen back in love with inov-8 trainers after discovering the Race Ultra 290s.

inov-8 state that their Race Ultra 290s have “increased levels of protection and underfoot cushioning to make them perfect for long distance training and racing”.

The inov-8 Race Ultra 290s feature:

Versatile grip: A lug pattern that uses the Tri-C outsole of hard, sticky and endurance rubbers so you can run with a natural gait on a range of terrain.

Debris protection: On-the-shoe gaiter hooks offer a more secure attachment system that allows you to attach Race Ultra gaiters (sold separately) directly to the shoe to defend against debris.

Durability: A protective toe cap and fully welded rand.

Comfort: An 8mm drop for running comfortably over long distances.

On test: inov-8 Race Ultra 290

The shoes feel light but not too light, if you know what I mean? A superlight shoe just doesn’t say longevity so I was happy that the Race Ultras appeared more durable than my featherlight race trainers.

The weight of 290g is not super-lightweight but it is not heavy either and they feel ideal for running, both training and racing.

The toebox has widened a lot since the early days of inov-8s. I worried about this because I have been told that a running shoe must fit neatly however I think that inov-8 have moved away for the narrow fit to allow for more of a natural foot spread that comes when running off road.

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That said, I did really like the narrow and neat fit of the older style of inov-8 trainers. More of these please if you can!

The soles of the trainers say trails and some hills and grass but not rocks, mud and lot of wet terrain. You need to take care to choose your trainers according to the terrain and conditions and inov-8 offer a lot of choice.

For example, I still rate their Mudclaws very highly for times when you need a more aggressively grippy shoe. And Roclites are perfect for a gripping compromise between mud and trails.

Meanwhile, the Race Ultras are more like the Terraclaws and meant for trails. I found they work really well on grass, hill paths and most trails. When the trails became too stony I could feel the stones through the soles of the shoes at the forefoot and pushing against the soles of my feet which wasn’t too pleasant.

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Surprisingly, for trail shoes, the Race Ultras are also superb on pavements and tarmac. They feel bouncy and spongy and far more comfortable than any other trail shoe on a hard surface.

This works really well for me on many of my runs because there is a wide mix of terrain including tarmac, hill paths, forest trails and cement roads.

The wider toebox has not caused me any problems at all. In fact, it feels super comfortable. I believe, or I have ben told, that if your forefoot moves about in a shoe too much the lack of support can lead to ankle, knee and hip problems but I have worn these shoes a lot and not suffered any problems.

While the toebox is wider than I would normally choose the heel is nicely fitting around my narrow ankles. I have not suffered any heel rubs of chafing.

I do not need to tie the laces too tight to keep my feet in place so they feel really comfortable. In fact, the uppers feel soft and super comfortable. I am not sure they will be as durable and long lasting as other inov-8s. I have had some pairs for many, many years but the uppers on those are stiffer and look more durable. I guess time will tell.

The footbed is flat. If you prefer something with arch support you will need to insert your own more supportive footbed or an orthotic. If you do use orthotics there is plenty of space to insert them.

I think, too, that the soles may well wear out far quicker than, say, the Mudclaws, which I have always found to be extremely hard wearing.

It is a compromise though. For a softer and more comfortable shoe with greater cushioning it could be that you lose some of the longevity, although I can’t prove this yet.

The shoes are fairly flexible, too. I like this but if you prefer a stiffer and more supportive shoe they are not for you. That said, the Race Ultras are not as flexible as some barefoot-style or more “natural” trainers that I have tried. I’d say they are a mid-way flexible off-road trainer.

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The colours are also fantastic. I have the blue/purple version and I love them! When I first wore inov-8s some 10 years ago they were in greys, blues, blacks and looked quite dull. The colourways of inov-8 shoes are now fabulous. Even the guys’ shoes come in lots of bright colours if that is what you prefer.

My biggest complaint about inov-8 (and it’s not really the company’s fault!) is that you need lots of different shoes to suit lots of different terrain. I have about 15 pairs of inov-8s! I have become spoilt and liketohave the exact pair of shoes fit for the purpose wherever I am running, from hard-packed trails, to muddy hills to rocky mountains.

inov-8 Race Ultra 290s come in women’s and men’s fit. There are also 220s and a 290 GTX version. Wiggle sell them for £107 and Athlete Shop have them for sale just now at £72.

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